Friday the Thirteen by Thomas W. Lawson - HTML preview
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'is scarf-pin unt he vos layin' for him ass he game out. He hasn't made a trade to-tay unt yet he sticks like a stamp-tax. I ben keeping my eyes on him for I t'ought he hat someding up his sleeve dat might raise tust ven he tropt id. I dink Parry has hat deh same itear. He never loses sight of him, yet Pop hasn't made a trade to-tay, unt here id iss twenty minutes of der glose unt dere iss Parry in deh centre again whooping her up ofer two hundred unt four."
Thursday, November 12th, was a memorable day in Wal Street. As the gong pealed its the-game's-closed-till-another-day, the myriad of tortured souls that are supposed to haunt the treacherous bogs and quicksands of the great Exchange, where lie their earthly hopes, must have prayed with renewed earnestness for its destruction before the morrow. Never had the Stock Exchange folded its tents with surer confidence of continuing its victorious march. Sugar advanced with record-breaking total sales to 2071/2 and in the final half-hour carried the whole list of stocks up with it. In that time some of the railroads jumped ten points. Sugar closed at the very top amid great excitement, with Barry Conant taking al offered. During the last thirty minutes it had become evident to all that the boardroom traders and plungers, together with many of the semi-professional gamblers, who operated through commission houses, were selling out their long stock and going short over the opening of the Wall Street hoodoo-day, Friday, the thirteenth of the month. But it was also evident, with the heavy selling at the close and the stiffness of the price, which had never wavered as block after block was thrown on the market, that some powerful interest as well had taken cognisance of the fact that the morrow was hoodoo-day. At the close, most of the sellers, had they been granted another five minutes, would have repurchased, even at a loss, what they had sold, for it looked as though they had sold themselves into a trap. Their anxiety was intensified by the publication, a few minutes later, of this item:
"Barry Conant in coming from the Sugar crowd after the close remarked to a fel ow broker, 'By three o'clock to-morrow, Friday, the 13th, will have a new meaning to Wall Street.' This was interpreted as pointing to a terrific jump in Sugar to-morrow."
"The Street" knew that the news bureau that sent out this item was friendly to Barry Conant and the "System," and that it would print nothing displeasing to them. Therefore, this must be, a foreword of the coming harvest of the bul s and the slaughter of the bears.
Others than Ike Bloomstein remarked upon the fact that Bob Brownley had hung close to the Sugar-pole al day, but when the close had come and gone without his having anything to do with the Sugar skyrockets, he dropped out of his fel ow-brokers' minds. Wall Street has no use for any but the
"doer." The poet and the mooner would be no more secure from interruption in the centre of the Sahara than in Wal Street between ten and three o'clock. Some sage has said that the human mind, like the wel -bucket, can carry only its fill. The Wal Street mind always has its fill of budding dol ars. In consequence, there is never room for those other interests that enter the normal mind.
Friday, the 13th of November, drifted over Manhattan Island in a drear drizzle of marrow-chilling haze, which just missed being rain--one of those New York days that give a hesitating suicide renewed courage to cut the mortal coil. By ten o'clock it had settled down on the Stock Exchange and its surrounding infernos with a clamminess that damped the spirits of the most rampant bulls. No class in the world is so susceptible to atmospheric conditions as stock-gamblers. Many a stout-hearted one has been known to postpone the inauguration of a long-planned coup merely because the air filled his blood with the dank chill of superstition.
Because of the expected Sugar pyrotechnics, Stock Exchange members had gathered early; the brokers' offices were crowded to overflowing before ten; the morning papers, not only in New York but in Boston, Philadelphia, and other centres, were filled with stories of the big rise that was to take place in Sugar. The knowing ones saw the ear-marks of the "System's"
press-agent in these stories; and they knew that this industrious institution had not sat up the night before because of insomnia. All the signs pointed to a killing, and a terrific one--pointed so plainly that the bears and Sugar shorts found no hope in the atmosphere or the date.
Bob had not been near the office the afternoon before, and as he had not come in by five minutes to ten I decided to go over to the Exchange and see if he were going to mix up in the baiting of the Sugar bears. I had no specific reasons for thinking he was interested except his recent queer actions, particularly his hanging to the Sugar-pole, yet doing nothing, the day before. But it is one of the best-established traditions of stock-gambledom that when an operator has been bitten by a rabid stock he is invariably attracted to it every time afterward that it shows signs of frothing. More than al , I had one of those strong nowhere-born-nowhere-cradled intuitions common to those living in the stock-gambling world, which made me feel the creepy shadow of coming events.
As on that day a few weeks before, the crowd was at the Sugar-pole, but its alignment was different. There in the centre were Barry Conant and his trusted lieutenants, but no opposing rival. None of those hundreds of brokers showed that desperate resolve to do or die that is born of a necessity. They were there to buy or sell, but not to put up a life or death, on-me-depends-the-result fight. Those who were long of stock could easily be distinguished by their expressions of joy from the shorts, who had seen the handwriting on the wal and were filled with uncertainty, fear, terror. The demeanour of Barry Conant and his lieutenants expressed confidence: they were going to do what they were there to do. They showed by their tight-buttoned coats, and squared shoulders that they expected lots of rush, push, and haul work, but apparently they anticipated no last-ditch fighting. The gong pealed and the crowd of brokers sprang at one another, but only for blood, not flesh, bone, heart, and soul; just blood. The first price on Sugar was 211 for 3,000 shares. Someone sold it in a block. Barry Conant bought it. It did not require three eyes to see that the seller was one of his lieutenants. This meant what is known as a
"wash" sale, a fictitious one arranged in advance between two brokers to establish the basis for the trades that are to fol ow--one of those minor frauds of stock-gambling by which the public is deceived and the traders and plungers are handicapped with loaded dice. In principle, it is a device older than stock exchanges themselves, and is put to use elsewhere than on the floor. For instance, four genuine buyers want a particular animal worth $200 at a horse auction. Its owner's pal starts the bidding at $400, and the four, not being up in horse values, are thereby induced to reach for it at between $400 to $500. But human nature, whether at horse sales or at stock-gambling, loves to be "hinky-dinked" as much as the moth loves to play tag with the candle flame. In five minutes Sugar was sel ing at 221, and the frantic shorts were grabbing for it as though there never was to be another share put on sale, while Barry Conant and his lieutenants were most industriously pushing it just beyond their reaching finger-tips, either by buying it as fast as it was offered by genuine sel ers or by taking what their own pals threw in the air.
I was not surprised to see Bob's tal form wedged in the crowd about two-thirds of the way from the centre. Every other active floor member was there too. Even Ike Bloomstein and Joe Barnes, who seldom went into the big crowds, were on hand, perhaps to catch a flier for their Thanksgiving turkey money, perhaps to get as near the killing as possible. Bob was not trading, although, as on the day before, he never took his eye off Barry Conant. I said to myself, "He is trying to fathom Barry Conant's movements," but for what purpose puzzled me. The hands of the big clock on the wall showed that trading had been thirty minutes under way and still Barry Conant was pushing up the price. His voice had just rung out "25 for any part of 5,000" when, like an echo, sounded through the hal , "Sold."
It was Bob. He had worked his way to the centre of the crowd and stood in front of Barry Conant. He was not the Bob who had taken Barry Conant's gaff that afternoon a few weeks before. I never saw him cooler, calmer, more self-possessed. He was the incarnation of confident power. A cold, cynical smile played around the corners of his mouth as he looked down upon his opponent.
The effect upon Barry Conant was different from that of Bob's last bid on the day when Beulah Sands's hopes went skyward in dust. It did not rouse him to the wild, furious desire for the onslaught that he showed then, but seemed to quicken his alert, prolific mind to exercise al its cunning. I think that in that one moment Barry Conant recal ed his suspicions of the day before, when he had wondered what Bob's presence in the crowd meant, and that he saw again the picture of Bob on the day when he himself had ditched Bob's treasure-train. He hesitated for just the fraction of a second, while he waved with lightning-like rapidity a set of finger signals to his lieutenants. Then he squared himself for the encounter. "25
for 5,000," Cold, cold as the voice of a condemning judge rang Bob's
"Sold." "25 for 5,000." "Sold." "25 for 5,000." "Sold." Their eyes were fixed upon each other, in Barry's a defiant glare, in Bob's mingled pity and contempt. The rest of the brokers hushed their own bids and offers until it could have truthful y been said that the floor of the Stock Exchange was quiet, an almost unheard-of thing in like circumstances.
Again Barry Conant's voice, "25 for 5,000." "Sold." "25 for 5,000."
"Sold." Barry Conant had met his master. Whether it was that for the first time in all his wonderful career he realised that the "System" was to meet its Nemesis, or what the cause, none could tell, perhaps not even Barry Conant himself, but some emotion caused his olive face for an instant to turn pale, and gave his voice a tel -tale quiver. Once more pealed forth
"25 for 5,000." That Bob saw the pal or, that he caught the quiver, was evident to all, for the instant his "Sold" rang out, he followed it with
"5,000 at 24, 23, 22, 20." Neither Barry Conant nor any of his lieutenants got in a "Take it"; although whether they wanted to or not was an open question until Bob al owed his voice to dwel just a pendulum swing of time on the 20. It was as if he were tantalising them into sticking by their guns. By the time he paused, Barry Conant's nerve was back, for his piercing "Take it" had linked to it "20 for any part of 10,000." The bid was yet on his lips when Bob's deep voice rang out "Sold." "Any part of 25,000 at 19, 18, 15, 10." Hell was now loose. Back and forth, up against the rail, around the room and back and around again, the crowd surged for fifteen of the wildest, craziest minutes in the history of the New York Stock Exchange, a history replete with records of wild and crazy scenes.
At last from sheer exhaustion there came a ten minutes' lull, which was used in comparing trades. At the beginning of the respite Sugar was selling at 155, for in that quarter-hour of madness it had broken from 210
to 155, but when the ten minutes had elapsed, the stock had worked back to 167. Barry Conant had again taken the centre of the crowd after hastily scanning the brief notes handed him by messenger-boys and giving orders to his lieutenants. He had evidently received reinforcements in the form of renewed orders from his principals. Many of the faces that fringed the inner circle of that crowd were frightful to look upon, some white as though just lifted from hospital pillows, others red to the verge of apoplexy--al strained as though awaiting the coming of the jury with a life or death verdict. They all knew that Bob had sold more than a hundred thousand shares of Sugar upon which the profits must be more than four million dol ars. Would he resume sel ing or was he through? Was it short stock, which must be bought back, or long stock; and if long, whose stock?
Were the insiders selling out on one another, or were they al selling together, and under cover of Barry Conant's movements were Camemeyer and
"Standard Oil" emptying their bag preparatory to the slaughter of the Washington contingent? Al these questions were rushing through the heads of that crowd of brokers like steam through a boiler, now hot, now cold, but always at high pressure, for upon the correctness of the answers depended the fortune of many who breathlessly awaited the renewal or the suspension of the contest. Even Barry Conant's usual y impassive face wore a tinge of anxiety.
Indeed, Bob's was the only one in the centre of that throng that showed no sign of what was going on behind it. The same cynical smile that had been there since the opening still played around the corners of his mouth as he squared himself in front of his opponent. All knew now that he was not through. Barry Conant had evidently decided to force the fighting, although more cautiously than before. "67 for a thousand." One of his lieutenants bid 67 for 500, another 67 for 300, and as Bob had not yet shown his intention of meeting their bids, 67 for different amounts was heard all over the crowd. Bob might have been tossing a mental coin to decide the advisability of buying back what he had sold; he might have been adding up the bids as they were made. He said nothing for a fraction of a minute, which to those tortured men must have seemed like an age.
Then with a wave of his hand, as though delivering a benediction, he swept the circle with a cold-blooded, "Sold the lots. 5,600 in all."
"Sixty-seven for a thousand"--again Barry Conant's bid. "Sold." "67 for 5,000." "Sold." "66 for a thousand." "Sold." The drop from five thousand to one thousand and a dollar a share in Barry Conant's bids was the mortally wounded but still game general's "Sound the retreat." Bob heard it. "Any part of 10,000 at 65, 64, 62, 60." The din was now as fierce as before. The entire crowd, al but Barry Conant and his lieutenants, seemed to have concluded that Bob's renewal of attack meant that his was the winning side, and those who had been hanging on to their stock, hoping against hope, and those who were short and had been undecided whether to cover or to hold on and sell more for greater profits, vied with one another in a frantic effort to sel . All could now feel the coming panic.
Al could see that it was to be a bad one, as the least informed on the floor knew that there was a tremendous amount of Sugar stock in the hands of Washington novices at speculation and of others who had bought it at high prices. Sugar was now dropping two, three, five dol ars a share between trades, and the panic was spreading to the other poles, as is always the case, for when there are sudden large losses in one stock, the losers must throw over the other stocks they hold to meet this loss, and thus the whole structure tumbles like a house of cards. Sugar had just crossed 110 when the loud bang of the president's gavel resounded through the room. Instantly there was a silence as of death. Al knew the meaning of the sound, the most ominous ever heard in a stock exchange, calling for the temporary suspension of business while the president announces the failure of some member or house.
Perkins, Blanchard & Company
Announce that They Cannot Meet Their Obligations This statement that one of the oldest houses had been swamped in the crash Bob had started caused further frantic sel ing, and, as though every member had employed the lul to refill his lungs, a howl arose that pealed and wailed to the dome.
I watched Bob closely; in fact, it was impossible for me to take my eyes off him; he seemed absolutely unmindful of the agonised shrieks about him, for the frenzied brokers were no longer crying their bids or offers, but screaming them. He still continued relentlessly to hammer Sugar, offering it in thousand and tens of thousand lots.
Again and again the gavel fel , and again and again an announcement of failure was followed by blood-curdling howls. When Sugar struck 80--not 180, but plain 80--it seemed that the last day of stock speculation was at hand. Announcements were being made every few minutes of the failure of this bank, the closing of the doors of that trust company. Where would it end? What power could stop this Niagara of molten dollars? Suddenly above the tumult rose Bob Brownley's voice. He must have been standing on his tiptoes. His hands were raised aloft. He seemed to tower a head above the mob. His voice was still clear and unimpaired by the terrible strain of the past two hours. To that mob it must have sounded like the trumpet of the delivering angel. "80 for any part of 25,000 Sugar." Instantly Sugar was hurled at him from al sides of the crowd. He was the only buyer of moment who had appeared since Sugar broke 125. Barry Conant and his lieutenants had disappeared like snowflakes at the opening of the door of the firebox of a locomotive speeding through the storm. In a few seconds Bob had been sold al the 25,000 he had bid for. Again his voice rang out:
"80 for 25,000." The sellers momentarily halted. He got only a few thousands of his twenty-five. "85 for 25,000." A few thousands more. "90
for 25,000." Still fewer thousands. His bidding was beginning to tell on the mob. A cry ran through the room into the crowds around the other poles--"Brownley has turned!"--and taking renewed courage at the report, the bulls rallied their forces and began to bid for the different stocks, which a moment before it had seemed that no one wanted at any price.
In a chip of a minute the whole scene changed; there was almost as wild a panic on the up side as there had been on the down. Bob Brownley continued buying Sugar until he had pushed it above 150. He then went about tallying up his trades. At the end of ten minutes' calculation he returned to the centre and bought 11,000 shares more; coming out, his eye caught mine.
"Jim, have you been here long?"
"An eternity. I was here at the opening and I pray God never to put me through another two hours like the past two. It seems a hideous dream, a nightmare. Bob, in the name of God what have you been doing?"
He gave me a wild, awful look of exultation. Sublime triumph shone in those blazing brown orbs, triumph such as I had never seen in the eyes of man.
"Jim Randolph, I have been giving Wal Street and its hel 'System' a dose of its own poison, a good ful -measure dose. They planned by harvesting a fresh crop of human hearts and souls on the bul side to give Friday the 13th a new meaning. Tradition says Friday the 13th is bear Saints' day. I believe in maintaining old traditions, so I harvested their hearts instead. I will tel you about it some time, Jim, but now I must see Beulah Sands. Jim Randolph, I've saved her and her father. I've made them a round three millions and a strong seven millions for myself."
He almost yelled it as he rushed away and left me dazed, stupefied. A moment, and I came to. Something urged me to follow him.
As I passed through my office a few minutes later I heard Bob's voice in Beulah Sands's office. It was raised in passionate eloquence.
"Yes, Beulah, I have done it single-handed. I have crucified Camemeyer,
'Standard Oil,' and the 'System' that spiked me to the cross a few weeks ago. You have three millions, and I have seven. Now there is nothing more but for you to go home to your father, and then come back to me. Back to me, Beulah, back to me to be my wife!"
He stopped. There was no sound. I waited; then, frightened, I stepped to the door of Beulah Sands's office. Bob was standing just inside the threshold, where he had halted to give her the glad tidings. She had risen from her desk and was looking at him with an agonised stare. He seemed to be transfixed by her look, the wild ecstasy of the outburst of love yet mirrored in his eyes. She was just saying as I reached the door:
"Bob, in mercy's name tel me you got this money fairly, honourably."
Bob must have realised for the first time what he had done. He did not speak. He only stared into her eyes. She was now at his side.
"Bob, you are unnerved," she said; "you have been through a terrible ordeal. For an hour I have been reading in the bul etins of the banks and trust companies that have failed, of the banking-houses that have been ruined. I have been reading that you did it; that you have made millions--and I knew it was for me, for father, but in the midst of my joy, my gratitude, my love--for, oh, Bob, I love you," she interrupted herself passionately; "it seems as though I love you beyond the capacity of a human heart to love. I think that for the right to be yours for one single moment of this life I would smilingly endure all the pains and miseries of eternal torture. Yes, Bob, for the right to have you call me yours for only while I heard the word, I would do anything, Bob, anything that was honourable."
She had drawn his head down close to her face, and her great blue eyes searched his as though they would go to his very soul. She was a child in her simple appeal for him to al ow her to see his heart, to see that there was nothing black there.
As she gazed, her beautiful hands played through his hair as do a mother's through that of the child she is soothing in sickness.
"Bob, speak to me, speak to me," she begged, "tell me there was no dishonour in the getting of those millions. Tell me no one was made to suffer as my father and I have suffered. Tel me that the suicides and the convicts, the daughters dragged to shame and the mothers driven to the madhouse as a result of this panic, cannot be charged to anything unfair or dishonourable that you have done. Bob, oh, Bob, answer! Answer no, or my heart will break; or if, Bob, you have made a mistake, if you have done that which in your great desire to aid me and my father seemed justifiable, but which you now see was wrong, tell it to me, Bob dear, and together we will try to undo it. We will try to find a way to atone. We will give the millions to the last, last penny to those upon whom you have brought misery. Father's loss will not matter. Together we will go to him and tell him what we have done, what we have lived through, tel him of our mistake, and in our agony he will forget his own. For such a horror has my father of anything dishonourable that he will embrace his misery as happiness when he knows that his teachings have enabled his daughter to undo this great wrong. And then, Bob, we will be married, and you and I and father and mother will be together, and be, oh, so happy, and we will begin all over again."
"Beulah, stop; in the name of God, in the name of your love for me, don't say another word. There is a limit to the capacity of a man to suffer, even if he be a great, strong brute like myself, and, Beulah, I have reached that limit. The day has been a hard one."
His voice softened and became as a tired child's.
"I must go out into the hustle of the street, into the din and sound, and get down my nerves and get back my head. Then I shal be able to think clear and true, and I will come back to you, and together we will see if I have done anything that makes me unfit to touch the cheek and the hands and the lips of the best and most beautiful woman God ever put upon earth.
Beulah, you know I would not deceive you to save my body from the fires of this world, and my soul from the torture of the damned, and I promise you that if I find that I have done wrong, what you cal wrong, what your father would call wrong, I will do what you say to atone."
He took her head between his hands, gently, reverently, and touching his lips to her glorious golden hair, he went away.
Beulah Sands turned to me. "Please, Mr. Randolph, go with him. He is soul-dazed. One can never tell what a heart sorely perplexed will prompt its owner to do. Often in the night when I have got myself into a fever from thinking of my father's situation, I have had awful temptations. The agents of the devil seek the wretched when none of those they love are by.
I have often thought some of the blackest tragedies of the earth might have been averted if there had been a true friend to stand at the wrung one's elbow at the fatal minute of decision and point to the sun behind, just when the black ahead grew unendurable. Please follow Mr. Brownley that you may be ready, should his awakening to what he has done become unbearable. Tell him the dreaded morrows are never as terrible actual y as they seem in anticipation."
I overtook Bob just outside the office. I did not speak to him, for I realised that he was in no mood for company. I dropped in behind, determined that I would not lose sight of him. It was almost one o'clock.
Wall Street was at its meridian of frenzy, every one on a wild rush. The day's doing had packed the always-crowded money lane. The newsboys were shouting afternoon editions. "Terrible panic in Wall Street. One man against millions. Robert Brownley broke 'the Street.' Made twenty millions in an hour. Banks failed. Wreck and ruin everywhere. President Snow of Asterfield National a suicide." Bob gave no sign of hearing. He strode with a slow, measured gait, his head erect, his eyes staring ahead at space, a man thinking, thinking, thinking for his salvation. Many hurrying men looked at him, some with an expression of unutterable hatred, as though they wanted to attack him. Then again there were those who called him by name with a laugh of joy; and some turned to watch him in curiosity. It was easy to pick the wounded from those who shared in his victory, and from those who knew the frenzied finance buzz-saw only by its buzz. Bob saw none. Where could he be going? He came to the head of the street of coin and crime and crossed Broadway. His path was blocked by the fence surrounding old Trinity's churchyard. Grasping the pickets in either hand he stared at the crumbling headstones of those guardsmen of Mammon who once walked the earth and fought their heart battles, as he was walking and fighting, but who now knew no ten o'clock, no three, who looked upon the stock-gamblers and dol ar-trailers as they looked upon the worms that honeycombed their headstones' bases. What thoughts went through Bob Brownley's mind only his Maker knew. For minutes he stood motionless, then he walked on down Broadway. He went into the Battery. The benches were crowded with that jetsam and flotsam of humanity that New York's mighty sewers throw in armies upon her inland beaches at every sunrise: Here a sodden brute sleeping off a prolonged debauch, there a lad whose frankness of face and homespun clothes and bewildered eyes spelt, "from the farm and mother's watchful love." On another bench an Italian woman who had a half-dozen future dol ar kings and social queens about her, and whose clothes told of the immigrant ship just into port. Bob Brownley apparently saw none. But suddenly he stopped. Upon a bench sat a sweet-faced mother holding a sleeping babe in her arms, while a curly-pated boy nestled his head in her lap and slept through the magic lanes and fairy woods of dreamland. The woman's face was one of those that blend the confidence of girlhood with the uncertainty of womanhood. 'Twas a pretty face, which had been plainly tagged by its Maker for a light-hearted trip through this world, but it had been seared by the iron of the city.
"Mr. Brownley--" She started to rise.
He gently pushed her back with a "hush," unwilling to rob the sleepers of their heaven.
"What are you doing here, Mrs.----?" He halted.
"Mrs. Chase. Mr. Brownley, when I went away from Randolph & Randolph's office I married John Chase; you may remember him as delivery clerk. I had such a happy home and my husband was so good; I did not have to typewrite any longer. These are our two children."
"What are you doing here?"
The tears sprang to her eyes; she dropped them, but did not answer.
"Don't mind me, woman. I, too, have hidden hells I don't want the world to see. Don't mind me; tell me your story. It may do you good; it may do me good; yes, it may do me good."
I had dropped into a seat a few feet away. Both were too much occupied with their own thoughts to notice me or any one else. I could not overhear their conversation, but long afterward, when I mentioned our old stenographer, Bessie Brown, to Bob, he told me of the incident at the Battery. Her husband, after their marriage, had become infected with the stock-gambling microbe, the microbe that gnaws into its victim's mind and heart day and night, while ever fiercer grows the "get rich, get rich"
fever. He had plunged with their savings and had drawn a blank. He had lost his position in disgrace and had landed in the bucket-shop, the sub-cellar pit of the big Stock Exchange hel . From there a week before he had been sent to prison for theft, and that morning she had been turned into the street by her landlord. I saw Bob take from his pocket his memorandum-book, write something upon a leaf, tear it out and hand it to the woman, touch his hat, and before she could stop him, stride away. I saw her look at the paper, clap her hands to her forehead, look at the paper again and at the retreating form of Bob Brownley. Then I saw her, yes, there in the old Battery Park, in the drizzling rain and under the eyes of al , drop upon her knees in prayer. How long she prayed I do not know. I only know that as I fol owed Bob I looked back and the woman was still upon her knees. I thought at the time how queer and unnatural the whole thing seemed. Later, I learned to know that nothing is queer and unnatural in the world of human suffering; that great human suffering turns al that is queer and unnatural into commonplace. Next day Bessie Brown came to our office to see Bob. Not being able to get at him she asked for me.
"Mr. Randolph, tel me, please, what shal I do with this paper?" she said. "I met Mr. Brownley in the Battery yesterday. He saw I was in distress and he gave me this, but I cannot believe he meant it," and she showed me an order on Randolph & Randolph for a thousand dol ars. I cashed her check and she went away.
From the Battery Bob sought the wharves, the Bowery, Five Points, the hothouses of the under-worldlings of America. He seemed bent on picking out the haunts of misery in the misery-infested metropolis of the new world. For two hours he tramped and I followed. A number of times I thought to speak to him and try to win him from his mood, but I refrained.
I could see there was a soul battle waging and I realised that upon its outcome might depend Bob's salvation. Some seek the quiet of the woods, the soothing rustle of the leaves, the peaceful ripple of the brook when battling for their soul, but Bob's woods appeared to be the shadowy places of misery, his rustling leaves the hoarse din of the multitude, and his brook's ripple the tears and tales of the man-damned of the great city, for he stopped and conversed with many human derelicts that he met on his course. The hand of the clock on Trinity's steeple pointed to four as we again approached the office of Randolph & Randolph. Bob was now moving with a long, hurried stride, as though consumed with a fever of desire to get to Beulah Sands. For the last fifteen minutes I had with difficulty kept him in sight. Had he arrived at a decision, and if so, what was it? I asked myself over and over again as I plowed through the crowds.
Bob went straight to Beulah Sands's office, I to mine. I had been there but a moment when I heard deep, guttural groans. I listened. The sound came louder than before. It came from Beulah Sands's office. With a bound I was at the open door. My God, the sight that met my gaze! It haunts me even now when years have dulled its vividness. The beautiful, quiet, gray figure that had grown to be such a familiar picture to Bob and me of late, sat at the flat desk in the centre of the room. She faced the door. Her elbows rested on the desk; in her hand was an afternoon paper that she had evidently been reading when Bob entered. God knows how long she had been reading it before he came. Bob was kneeling at the side of her chair, his hands clasped and uplifted in an agony of appeal that was supplemented by the awful groans. His face showed unspeakable terror and entreaty; the eyes were bursting from their sockets and were riveted on hers as those of a man in a dungeon might be fixed upon an approaching spectre of one whom he had murdered. His chest rose and fel , as though trying to burst some unseen bonds that were crushing out his life. With every breath would come the awful groan that had first brought me to him. Beulah Sands had half turned her face until her eyes gazed into Bob's with a sweet, childish perplexity. I looked at her, surprised that one whom I had always seen so intel igently masterful should be passive in the face of such anguish.
Then, horror of horrors! I saw that there was something missing from her great blue eyes. I looked; gasped. Could it possibly be? With a bound I was at her side. I gazed again into those eyes which that morning had been all that was intel igent, all that was godlike, all that was human. Their soul, their life was gone. Beulah Sands was a dead woman; not dead in body, but in soul; the magic spark had fled. She was but an empty shel --a woman of living flesh and blood; but the citadel of life was empty, the mind was gone. What had been a woman was but a child. I passed my hand across my now damp forehead. I closed my eyes and opened them again. Bob's figure, with clasped, uplifted hands, and bursting eyes, was still there.
There still resounded through the room the awful guttural groans. Beulah Sands smiled, the smile of an infant in the cradle. She took one beautiful hand from the paper and passed it over Bob's bronzed cheek, just as the infant touches its mother's face with its chubby fingers. In my horror I almost expected to hear the purling of a babe. My eyes in their perplexity must have wandered from her face, for I suddenly became aware of a great black head-line spread across the top of the paper that she had been reading:
"FRIDAY, THE 13TH."
And beneath in one of the columns:
"TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN VIRGINIA"
"THE MOST PROMINENT CITIZEN OF THE STATE, EX-UNITED STATES SENATOR AND
EX-GOVERNOR, JUDGE LEE SANDS OF SANDS LANDING, WHILE TEMPORARILY INSANE
FROM THE LOSS OF HIS FORTUNE AND MILLIONS OF THE FUNDS FOR WHICH HE WAS
TRUSTEE, CUT THE THROAT OF HIS INVALID WIFE, HIS DAUGHTER'S, AND THEN
HIS OWN. ALL THREE DIED INSTANTLY."
In another column:
"ROBERT BROWNLEY CREATES THE MOST DISASTROUS PANIC IN THE HISTORY OF
WALL STREET AND SPREADS WRECK AND RUIN THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY."
A hideous picture seared its every light and shade on my mind, through my heart, into all my soul. A frenzied-finance harvest scene with its gory crop; in the centre one living-dead, part of the picture, yet the ghost left to haunt the painters, one of whom was already cowering before the black and bloody canvas.
Well did the word-artist who wrote over the door of the madhouse, "Man can suffer only to the limit, then he shal know peace," understand the wondrous wisdom of his God. Beulah Sands had gone beyond her limit and was at peace.
The awful groaning stopped and an ashen pallor spread over Bob Brownley's face. Before I could catch him he rol ed backward upon the floor as dead.
Bob Brownley, too, had gone beyond his limit. I bent over him and lifted his head, while the sweet woman-child knelt and covered his face with kisses, calling in a voice like that of a tiny girl speaking to her doll,
"Bob, my Bob, wake up, wake up; your Beulah wants you." As I placed my hand upon Bob's heart and felt its beats grow stronger, as I listened to Beulah Sands's childish voice, joyously confident, as it cal ed upon the one thing left of her old world, some of my terror passed. In its place came a great mel owing sense of God's marvel ous wisdom. I thought grateful y of my mother's always ready argument that the law of all laws, of God and nature, is that of compensation. I had allowed Bob's head to sink until it rested in Beulah's lap, and from his calm and steady breathing I could see that he had safely passed a crisis, that at least he was not in the clutches of death, as I had at first feared.
Bob slept. Beulah Sands ceased her cal ing and with a smile raised her fingers to her lips and softly said, "Hush, my Bob's asleep." Together we held vigil over our sleeping lover and friend, she with the happiness of a child who had no fear of the awakening, I with a silent terror of what should come next. I had seen one mind wafted to the unknown that day. Was it to have a companion to cheer and solace it on its far journey to the great beyond? How long we waited Bob's awakening I could not tel . The clock's hands said an hour; it seemed to me an age. At last his magnificent physique, his unpoisoned blood and splendid brain pulled him through to his new world of mind and heart torture. His eyelids lifted. He looked at me, then at Beulah Sands, with eyes so sad, so awful in their perplexed mournfulness, that I almost wished they had never opened, or had opened to let me see the childlike look that now shone from the girl's.
His gaze finally rested on her and his lips murmured "Beulah."
"There, Bob, I thought you would know it was time to wake up." She bent over and kissed him on the eyes again and again with the loving ardour a child bestows upon its pets.
He slowly rose to his feet. I could see from his eyes and the shudder that went over him as he caught sight of the paper on the desk that he was himself; that memory of the happenings of the day had not fled in his sleep. He rose to his full height, his head went up, and his shoulders back, but only from habit and for an instant. Then he folded Beulah Sands to his breast and dropped his head upon her shoulder. He sobbed like a father with the corpse of his child.
"Why, Bob, my Bob, is this the way you treat your Beulah when she's let you sleep so your beautiful eyes would be pretty for the wedding? Is this the way to act before this kind man who has come to take us to the church?
Naughty, naughty Bob."
I looked at her, at Bob, in horror. I was beginning to realise the absolute deadness of this woman. From the first look I had known that her mind had fled, but knowledge is not always realisation. She did not even know who I was. Her mind was dead to al but the man she loved, the man who through al those long days of her suffering she had silently worshiped. To al but him she was new-born.
At the sound of "wedding," "church," Bob's head slowly rose from her shoulder. I saw his decision the instant I caught his eye; I realised the uselessness of opposing it, and, sick at heart and horrified, I listened as he said in a voice now calm and soothing as that of a father to his child, "Yes, Beulah, my darling, I have slept too long. Bob has been naughty, but we will make up for lost time. Get your hat and cloak and we'll hurry to the church or we will be late."
With a laugh of joy she fol owed him to the closet where hung the little gray turban and the pretty gray jacket. He took them from their peg and gave them to her.
"Not a word, Jim," he bade me. "In the name of God and al our friendship, not a word. Beulah Sands will be my wife as soon as I can find a minister to marry us. It is best, best. It is right. It is as God would have it, or I am not capable of knowing right from wrong. Anyway, it is what will be.
She has no father, no mother, no sister, no one to protect and shield her.
The 'System' has robbed her of al in life, even of herself, of everything, Jim, but me. I must try to win her back for herself, or to make her new world a happy one--a happy one for her."
An old gambler, whose life had been spent listening to the rattle of the drop-in-bound-out little roulette bal , was told by a fel ow victim, as his last dol ar went to the relentless tiger's maw, that the keeper's foot was upon an electric button which enabled him to make the bal drop where his stake was not. He simply said, "Thank God. I thought that prince of cheats, Fate, who all through life has had his foot on the button of my game, was the one who did the trick." Long suffering had driven the old gambler to the loser's bible, Philosophy! Cheated by man's device, he knew he had some chance of getting even; but Fate he could not combat.
Bob Brownley had thought himself in hard luck when his eyes opened to the fact that he had been robbed by means of dice loaded by man, but when Fate pressed the button he saw that his man-made hel was but a feeble imitation, and--was satisfied, as whoever knows the game of life is satisfied, because--he must be. Bob's strong head bowed, his iron will bent, and meekly his soul murmured, "Thy will be done."
That night he married Beulah Sands. The minister who united the grown-up man and the woman who was as a new-born babe saw nothing extraordinary in the match. He murmured to me, who acted as best man to the groom, maid of honour to the bride, and father and mother to both, "We see strange sights, we ministers of the great city, Mr. Randolph. The sweet little lady appears to be a trifle scared." My explanation that she and Mr.
Brownley were the only survivors of the awful tragedies of the day was sufficient. He was satisfied when he got no other response to his question, "Do you take this man to be your wedded husband?" than a sweet childish smile as she snuggled closer to Bob.
Bob and his bride went South to his mother and sisters the next day. He left to me the settlement of his trades. He instructed me to set aside $3,000,000 profits for Beulah Sands-Brownley, and insisted that I pay from the balance the notes he had given me a few weeks before. There remained something over $5,000,000 for himself.
The leading Wal Street paper, in its preachment on the panic, wound up with:
"Wall Street has lived through many black Fridays. Some of them have been thirteenth-of-the-month Fridays, but no Friday yet marked from the calendar, no Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday yet garnered to the storehouse of the past was ever more jubilantly welcomed by his Satanic Majesty than yesterday. We pray heaven no coming day may be ordained to go against yesterday's record for tigerish cruelty and awful destruction. It is rumoured that Mr.
Brownley of Randolph & Randolph, either for himself or his clients cleared twenty-five millions of profit. We believe that this estimate is low. The losses coming through Robert Brownley's terrible onslaught must have run over five hundred millions. Wall Street and the country will do wel to take the moral of yesterday's market to their heart. It is this: The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few Americans is a menace to our financial structure. It is the unanimous opinion of
'the Street' that Robert Brownley could never have succeeded in battering down the price of Sugar in the very teeth of the Camemeyer and Standard Oil support as he did yesterday, without a cash backing of from fifty to one hundred millions. If a vast aggregation of money owners deliberately place themselves behind an onslaught such as was so successful y made yesterday, why can that slaughter not be repeated at any time, on any stock, and against the support of any backing?"
When I read this and listened to talk along the same lines, I was puzzled.
I could not for the life of me see where Bob Brownley could have got five to ten millions' backing for such a raid, much less fifty to a hundred.
Yet I was forced to confess that he must have had some tremendous backing; else how could he have done what I had seen him do?
Bob left his wife at his mother's house while he went to Sands Landing to the funeral. After the old judge and his victims had been laid away and the relatives had gathered in the library of the great white Sands mansion, he explained their kinswoman's condition and told them that she was his wife. He insisted upon paying al Judge Sands's debts, over $500,000 of which was owed to members of the Sands family for whom he had been trustee. Before he went back to his mother's, Bob had turned a great calamity into an occasion for something near rejoicing. Judge Sands and his family were very dear to the people of the section, but his misfortune had threatened such wide-spread ruin that the unlooked-for recovery of a million and a half was a godsend that made for happiness.
Two days after the funeral Bob's dearest hope fled. He had ordered all things at the Sands plantation put in their every-day condition. Beulah Sands's uncles, aunts, and cousins had arranged to welcome her and to try by every means in their power to coax back her lost mind. They assured Bob that, barring the absence of Beulah's father, mother, and sister, there would not be a memory-recaller missing. Bob and his wife landed from the river packet at the foot of the driveway, which led straight from the landing to the vine-covered, white-pillared portico. Bob's agony must have been awful when his wife clapped her hands in childish joy as she exclaimed, "Oh, Bob, what a pretty place!" She gave no sign that she had ever seen the great entrance, through which she had come and gone from her babyhood. Bob took her to the library, to her mother's room, to her own, to the nursery where were the dol s and toys of her childhood, but there came no sign of recognition, nothing but childish pleasure. She looked at her aunts and uncles and the cousins with whom she had spent her life, bewildered at finding so many strangers in the otherwise quiet place. As a last hope, they led in her old black foster-mother, who had nursed her in babyhood, who was the companion of her childhood and the pet of her womanhood. There was not a dry eye in the library when she met the old mammy's outburst of joy with the puzzled gaze of the child who does not understand. The grief of the old negress was pitiful as she realised that she was a stranger to her "honey bird." The child seemed perplexed at her grief. It was plain to al that the Sands home meant nothing to the last of the judge's family.
Bob brought her back to New York and besought the aid of the medical experts of America and of the Old World to regain that which had been recalled by its Maker. The doctors were fascinated with this new phase of mind blight, for in some particulars Beulah's case was unlike any known instances, but none gave hope. All agreed that some wire connecting heart and brain had burned out when the cruel "System" threw on a voltage beyond the wire's capacity to transmit. All agreed that the woman-child wife would never grow older unless through some mental eruption beyond human power to produce. Some of the medical men pointed to one possibility, but that one was too terrible for Bob to entertain.
The first anniversary of their marriage found Bob and his wife settled in their new Fifth Avenue mansion. He had bought and torn down two old houses between Forty-second and Forty-third Streets and had erected a palace, the inside of which was unique among al New York's unusual structures. The first and second floors were all that refined taste and unlimited expenditure of money could produce. Nothing on those splendid floors told of the strange things above. A sedate luxury pervaded the drawing-rooms, library, and dining-room. Bob said to me, in taking me through them, "Some day, Jim, Beulah may recover, may come back to me, and I want to have everything as she would wish, everything as she would have had it if the curse had never come." The third floor was Beulah's. A child's dainty bedroom; two nurses' rooms adjoining; a nursery, with a child's smal schoolroom and a big playroom, with dol s and dol houses, child's toys of every description in abandon, as though their owner were in fact but a few years old. Across the hal were three offices, exact duplicates of mine, Bob's, and Beulah Sands's at Randolph & Randolph's.
When I first saw them it was with difficulty that I brought myself to realise that I was not where the gruesome happenings of a year before had taken place. Bob had reproduced to the minutest details our down-town workshop. Standing in the door of Beulah Sands's office I faced the flat desk at which she had sat the afternoon when I first saw that hideous result of the work of the "System." I could almost see the little gray figure holding the afternoon paper. In horror my eyes sought the floor at the side of the chair in search of Bob's agonised face and uplifted hands.
As I stood for the first time in the middle of Bob's handiwork, I seemed to hear again those awful groans.
"Jim," Bob said, "I have a haunting idea that some day Beulah will wake and look around and think she has been but a few minutes asleep. If she should, she must have nothing to disabuse her mind until we break the news to her. I have instructed her nurses, one or the other of whom never loses sight of her night or day, to win her to the habit of spending her time at her old desk; I have told them always to be prepared for her awakening, and when it comes they are instantly to shut off the rest of the floor and house until I can get to her. Here comes Beulah now."
Out of the nursery came a laughing, happy child-woman. In spite of her finely developed, womanly figure, which had lost nothing of its wonderful beauty, and the exquisite face and golden-brown hair and great blue eyes, which were as fascinating as on the day she first entered the offices of Randolph & Randolph; in spite of the close-fitting gray gown with dainty turned-over lace col ar, I could hardly bring myself to believe that she was anything but a young child. With an eager look and a happy laugh she went to Bob and throwing her arms about his neck, covered his face with kisses.
"Good Bob has come back to play with Beulah," she said, "She knew he would. They told Beulah Bob had gone away to the woods to gather pretty flowers. Beulah knew if Bob had gone to the woods he would have taken Beulah with him. Now Bob must play school with Beulah." She sat at her desk and opened her child's school-book. With mock severity she said,
"Bob, c-a-t. What does it spel ?" For half an hour Bob sat and played scholar and teacher by turns with al the patience of a fond father. With difficulty I kept back the tears the sad sight brought to my eyes.
For the first year of Bob's marriage we saw but little of him at the office. The Exchange saw less. He had wandered in upon the floor two or three times, but did no business and seemed to take but little interest.
"The Street" knew Bob had married the daughter of Judge Lee Sands, the victim of Tom Reinhart's cold-blooded Seaboard Air Line deal. Otherwise it knew nothing of the affair. His friends never met his wife. Occasional y they would pass the Brownley carriage on the avenue or in the park and, taking it for granted that the beautiful woman was Mrs. Brownley, they thought Bob a lucky fel ow. It seemed quite natural that his wife should choose seclusion after the awful tragedy at her home in Virginia. But they could not understand why, with such cause for mourning, the exquisite figure beside Bob in the victoria should always be garbed in gray. After a while it was whispered that there was something wrong in Bob's household.
Then his friends and acquaintances ceased to whisper or to think of his affairs. With al New York's bad points--and they are as plentiful as her church spires and charity bazaars--she has one offsetting virtue. If a dwel er in her midst chooses to let New York alone, New York is willing to reciprocate. In her most crowded fashionable districts a person may come and go for a lifetime, and none in the block in which he dwells will know when his coming and going ceases. When a New Yorker reads in his newspaper of the man who lives next door to him, "murdered and his body discovered by the gas man" or the tax col ector, the butcher or the baker, as the case may be, he never thinks he may have been remiss in his neighbourly duties. There is no such word as "neighbour" in the New York City dictionary. It may have been there once, but, if so, it was long ago used as a stake for the barbed-wire fence of exclusive keep-your-distance-we-keep-our-distance-until-we-know-youness. It is told of a minister from the rural districts, an old-fashioned American, who came to New York to take charge of a parish, that he started out to make his cal s and was seized in the hall of what in civilisation would have been his next-door neighbour. He was rushed away to Bellevue for examination as to sanity. The verdict was: "Insane. Had no letter of introduction and was not in the set."
Shortly after the first anniversary of his wedding Bob gave up his office with Randolph & Randolph and opened one for himself. He explained that he was giving up his commission business to devote all his time to personal trading. With the opening of his new office he again became the most active man on the floor. His trading was intermittent. For weeks he would not be seen at the Exchange or on "the Street." Then he would return and, after executing a series of brilliant trades, which were invariably successful, he would again disappear. He soon became known as the luckiest operator in Wal Street, and the beginning of his every new deal was the signal for his fast-growing following to tag on.
From time to time I learned that Beulah Sands was making no real improvement, though in some details she had learned as a child learns. But there was no indication that she would ever regain her lost mind.
Strange stories of Bob's doings began to seep into my office. For long periods he would disappear. Neither the nurses in charge of his wife, nor his brother, mother, and sisters, for whom he had purchased a mansion a few blocks above his own, would hear a word from him. Then he would return as suddenly as he had disappeared, and his wild eyes and haggard face would tell of a prolonged and desperate soul struggle. He drank often now, a habit he had never before indulged in.
For ten days before the second anniversary of his marriage he had been missing. On the morning of the anniversary he appeared at the Exchange, wild-eyed and dare-devil reckless. The market had been advancing for weeks and was at a high level. Tom Reinhart and his branch of the "System" were working out a new fleecing of the public in Union and Northern Pacific. At the strike of the gong Bob took possession of the Union Pacific pole and in thirty minutes had precipitated a panic by his merciless sel ing. Our house was heavily interested in the Pacifics, although not in connection with Reinhart and his crowd. As soon as I got word that Bob was the cause of the slaughter, I rushed over to the Exchange and working my way into the crowd, I begged a word with him. He had broken both stocks over fifty points a share and the panic was raging through the room. He glared at me, but finally followed me out into the lobby. At first he would not heed my appeal, but final y he said, "Jim, it is too bad to let up. I had determined to rub this devilish institution off the map, but if it really is a case of injury to the house, it's my opportunity to do something for you who have done so much for me, so here goes." He threw himself into the Union Pacific crowd, first giving an order to a group of his brokers, who jumped for a number of other poles. Almost instantly the panic was stayed and stocks were bounding upward two to five points at a leap. Bob continued buying Union Pacific and his brokers other stocks in unlimited quantities. Nothing like such a quick turn of the market had been seen before. His power to absorb stocks seemed to be boundless. It was estimated that personally and through his brokers he bought over half a million shares before he joined me and left the Exchange.
I looked at him in wonderment. "Bob, I cannot understand you," I said at last as we turned out of Broad Street into Wall. "It seems as if you work with magic. Everything you touch turns to gold."
He wheeled on me. "Yes, Jim, you are right. Gold, heartless, soul ess gold. But what is the dross good for? What is it good for to me? To-day I suppose I have made the biggest one-man killing in the history of 'the Street.' I must be an easy twenty-five millions richer in gold than I was this morning, and I had enough then to dam the East River and a good section of the North. But tel me, Jim, tell me, what can it buy in this world that I have not got? I had health and happiness, perfect health, pure happiness, when I did not have a thousand al told. Now I have fifty millions, and I know how to get fifty or five hundred and fifty more any time I care to take them, and I have only physical and mental hel . No beggar in al the world is so poor in happiness as I. Tell me, tell me, Jim, in the name of God, if there is one--for already the game of gold is robbing me of my faith in God--where can I buy a little, just a little happiness with al this cursed yellow dirt? What will it get me in the next world, Jim Randolph, what will it get me? If I had died when I was poor, I think you will agree with me that, if there is a heaven, I should have stood an even chance of getting there. Now on a day like to-day, when you see the results of my work, the results of my handling of unlimited gold, you must agree that if I were taken off I should stand more than an even show of landing in hell where the sulphur is thickest and the flames are hottest."
We were at the entrance of Randolph & Randolph's office as he poured out this terrible torrent of bitterness. He glared at me as a dungeon prisoner might glare at his keeper for his answer to "Where can I find liberty?" I had no words to answer him. As I noted the awful changes his new life was making in every line of his face, the rigid hardness, the haunted, nervous look of desperation, which seemed a forerunner of madness, I could not see, either, where his millions brought any happiness. His hair, which once was smooth and orderly, hung over his forehead in an unparted mass of tangled curls, and here and there showed a streak of white. Bob Brownley was still handsome, even more fascinating than before the mercury entered his soul, but it was that wild, awful beauty of the caged lion, lashing himself into madness with memories of his lost freedom.
"Jim," he went on, when he saw I could not answer, "I guess you don't know where I can swap the yel ow mud for balm of Gilead. I won't bother you with my troubles any longer. I will go up-town and see the little girl whose happiness Tom Reinhart needed in his business. I will go up and show her the pictures in this week's _Col ier's_ of the fine hospital for incurables that Reinhart has so generously and nobly built at a cost of two and a half millions! The little girl may think better of Reinhart when she knows that her father's money was put to such good use. Who knows but the great finance king may dedicate it as the 'Judge Lee Sands Home' and carve over the entrance a bas-relief of her father, mother, and sister with Hope, Faith, and Charity coming from the mouths of their hanging severed heads?"
Bob Brownley laughed a horrible ringing laugh as he uttered these awful words. Then he beat his hand down on my shoulders as he said in a hoarse voice, "Jim, but for you I should have had crimps in that jackal philanthropist's soul by now and in the souls of his kind. But never mind.
He will keep; he will surely keep until I get to him. Every day he lives he will be fitter for the crimping. Within the short two years since he finished grilling Judge Sands's soul, he has put himself in better form to appreciate his reward. I see by the press that at last his aristocratic wife has gold-cured Newport of its habit of dating back the name Reinhart to her scullionhood, and it has taken her into the high-instep circle. I read the other day of his daughter's marriage to some English nob, and of the discovery of the ancient Reinhart family tree and crest with the mailed hand and two-edged dirk and the vulture rampant, and the motto,
'Who strikes in the back strikes often.'"